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Violence in Video Games:
A Bibliographic Analysis Essay
Stephanie Rock
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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Almost since their beginning, there has been an ever increasing amount of violence in video games. Playing video games is an entertaining activity practiced primarily by the young but enjoyed by people, of all ages, especially those who grew up with computers. Of those who spend a significant amount of time playing video games, it is primarily the younger audiences and children who generally prefer the more violent video games. Recent studies have shown that some, if not all children are negatively affected by the violence shown in video games. One of the negative effects often exhibited by children exposed to violent video games is a temporary increase in aggression. However, the aggression does go away with time when the exposure is removed. For parents who are concerned about their children’s behavior, have concerns about these violent games or just do not want their children to play these games, they should check the game cover for pictures and ratings before purchasing. In this essay, the arguments and research done by various journal writers will be discussed. The purpose of this essay is to further examine violent video games and the effects they have on children.

Video games are becoming more and more violent while the graphics and actions become more advanced and realistic as the technologies evolve. With the many years of experience, video game makers have developed new ways of improving style, creativity and graphic quality. In Matt McCormick’s article, “Is it Wrong to Play Violent Video Games?” he argues that “Players have clamored for faster paced games and more powerful weapons, so that as a result not only have the kills gotten more graphic but that are more numerous as well” (McCormick 277). Thus, these games become more exciting to play and have increased realistic look, which in turn makes them more terrifying to watch. The most popular video games that children want to play are unfortunately the ones with the highest intensity of violence. In the article, “Violent Video Games Affecting our Children,” Judith A. Vessey suggests that “Video game violence appears in fantasy, action, and sports games alike and ranges from being highly realistic to cartoonish and slapstick in its portrayal” (Vessey 607). No matter what game is rented or purchased, whether it is Grand Theft Auto or ESPN NHL Hockey, it will contain some forms of violence.

According to many studies, violence in video games should be a concern for many parents of children with aggressive attitudes. Repeated exposure to violent video games can be connected with increased fear, violent behavior, decreased compassion toward others, increased aggression, and less trust for youth. In Brian Vastag’s article, “Does Video Game Violence Sow Aggression? Studies Probe Effects of Virtual Violence on Children,” he argues, “If video games do increase violent tendencies outside the laboratory, the explosion of gaming over the past decade—from $3.2 billion in sales in 1995 to $7 billion in 2003, according to industry figures—would suggest a parallel trend in youth violence” (Vastag 1832). This does present a very important question, if violent games do increase aggression, then should kids that play video games generally have more aggressive behavior? Some games are less violent than others, but they still contain violence, so those less violent games along with their more violent counterparts are generically labeled as a violent game. Even children’s games, such as Super Mario Brothers have violence in them, as the game requires the elimination the villains to continue on to the next level.

The studies done by Craig Anderson and Karen Dill have shown that playing violent video games can increase aggressive behavior and thoughts both inside and outside of the laboratory setting. When college student participated in this study they reported more aggressive behavior. The study also shows that the more students played the video games, the more aggressive their behavior became. A second study was conducted in which students played either nonviolent or violent games and then played against each other for a specific period of time. These studies revealed that playing video games temporarily increased aggressive behavior for a various temporary amounts of time for different types of individuals. In the article, “Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life,” by Craig Anderson and Karen Dill, they explain that “Each time people play violent video games, they rehearse aggressive scripts that teach and reinforce vigilance for enemies (i.e., hostile perception bias), aggressive action against others, expectations that others will behave aggressively, positive attitudes toward use of violence, and beliefs that violent solutions are effective and appropriate” (Anderson and Dill 7). This study implies that the aggressiveness that comes from playing violent games is not cognitive; it is more or less unknown by the aggressive person.

Much research has been completed supporting the claims of children becoming more aggressive after playing a violent video game. In Jeanne B. Funk’s article, “Playing Violent Video and Computer Games and Adolescent Self-Concept,” she further suggests that, “In one study of twenty-eight 4- through 6-year olds (half were boys), aggressive behavior is increased following play or observation of violent video games” (Funk and Buchman 20). Children also have a tendency to imitate the behavior of the character they were playing or watching.

Some level of violence is in most video games that adolescents play today. In the article, “Popular video games: Quantifying the presentation of violence and its context,” by Stacy Smith, Ken Lachlan, and Ron Tamborini, it is argued that “Dietz (1998) assessed the amount of violence in 33 popular Nintendo and Sega Genesis video games. The findings show that 79% of all the home video games featured aggression. Further, 21% of the games featured some type of violence against women” (Smith, Lachlan, and Tamborini 60). Further, the video games rating system has been started up. The rating symbol and content description is located somewhere on the back cover of each game. If the letter “E” is symbolized, then the game is suitable for everyone, “T” is for teen, usually meant for 13 years old and up, and “M” is for mature, meant for at least 17 years old. There have been reports of some 11- to 16-year old’s favorite games being rated “M.” Even some games rated “E” for everyone (including small children) have violence in them. Similar to the G rating of films, the Entertainment Software Rating Board's (ESRB) “E” rating of video games implies that a game is suitable for all audiences; however, “E” ratings do not always mean violence free. In Kimberly M. Thompson and Kevin Haninger’s article, “Violence in E-rated video games,” they established that, “We found that 35 of the 55 games we played (64%) involved intentional violence for an average of 30.7% of game play (range, 1.5%-91.2%), and we noted significant differences in the amount of violence among game genres” (Thompson and Haninger 591). This implies that even though theses games are rated as being suitable for children, there are still considerable amounts of violence. The Entertainment Software Rating Board should be more cautious when rating games.

Although there are many negative impacts of playing video games, some positive effects may come out of playing them as well. Playing video and computer games can make available opportunities for observational learning. It can also greatly increase hand-eye coordination in many children. Strategy is also involved in game playing, plotting out what needs to be done to get around something or eliminate a person or thing. Now there are educational video games that help with reading and math that parents can purchase for their children. Also children can spend time together playing and increase conversation and interaction. Playing fun, non-violent games can bring families closer together, instead of playing Monopoly the old fashioned board game way, why not try it on Play Station 2, and play it the Y2K way. A recent study by the Economic and Social Research Council found that video games improve coordination and mental agility in those who play them.

Even though video game makers tell us that there are many positive uses of video games, there are still violent games which some people find alarming. Studies have shown that children are more susceptible than adults to the influence of violence in video games. The newer games have better graphics, interactivity, realism, level of gore and allow players to participate in a more realistic atmosphere than ever before. These new and more realistically violent games have created some valid concerns regarding the potentially harmful effects that they can have on young children. A number of trials in different countries have been held to establish the video game rating system. On the website Video Game Violence, it is stated that, “For instance, in the game ‘Carmageddon,’ players run down pedestrians, including elderly women with walkers. If a player completes all levels of this game, he or she will have killed a maximum of 33,000 people. This trend has intensified public concern regarding the potential harmful effects of electronic interactive games. (2). There are many games today that involve killing. Many of them are children’s favorites because they are the most entertaining and fun.

Video games are a whole new world for most people born prior to 1970, and are hard for most adults to keep up with. On the other hand, our first generation of people that grew up with video games is now reaching adulthood. This paper and the studies discussed herein have conclusively shown that violent video games most certainly have an impact on children’s behavior, and a negative one at that. The primary behavioral change is increased aggression, but other behavioral changes have been observed as well, including fear, violence, less compassion and trust. Some of the studies cited in this paper indicate that these behavioral changes are temporary in nature and disappear over time as the stimulation of the video games is removed from the person’s environment. What these studies have not resolved is the long term impacts (if any) of these behavioral changes on these children as they grow into adulthood and the effects on our society in general.

Certainly, video games have had an impact on the generation of children that are now entering college and the work force. Many questions remain about the long-term affects of their exposure to video games and how this generation in turn they will affect society. We live in a society of constant change that seems to be evolving at an ever increasing rate. Going forward, there seem to be many opposing forces that will affect the evolution of video games. Our recent presidential election has shown a shift of our population towards more fundamentally moralistic behaviors. This moral majority may, in the future, demand more responsible behavior from our video games producers and the Entertainment Software Rating Board. On the other hand, the technology continues to evolve which in turn will allow for increasing realistic gore and violence. Also, there are market factors involved; if there is no market for violent video games, the video game producers cannot afford to produce them. Violent video games do affect children’s behavior. What we don’t know is how they will behave as adults, how that changed behavior may affect our society and what changes will our society undergo as a result or as a reaction in an attempt to reduce our children’s exposure to violent video games.

Works Cited

Anderson, Craig, and Karen Dill. “Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78.2 (2000): 772-90.

Funk, Jeanne B., and Debra D. Buchman. “Playing Violent Video and Computer Games and Adolescent self-concept.” Journal of Communication 46.2 (1996): 19-32.

McCormick, Matt. “Is it wrong to play violent video games?” Ethics and Information Technology 3.4 (2001): 277-87.

Smith, Stacy L., Ken Lachlan, and Ron Tamborini. “Popular video games: Quantifying the presentation of violence and its context.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 41.1 (2003): 58-76.

Thompson, Kimberley M., and Kevin Haninger. “Violence in E-rated video games.” The Journal of the American Medical Association 286.5 (2001): 591-98.

Vastag, Brian. “Does Video Game Violence Sow Aggression? Studies Probe Effects of Virtual Violence on Children.” The Journal of the American Medical Association 291.15 (2004): 1822-824.

Vessey, Judith A., and Joanne E Lee. “Violent Video Games Affecting our Children.” Pediatric Nursing 26.6 (2000): 607-10.

Video Game Violence. 10 Mar. 2000. Media Scope. 13 Oct. 2004 <http://www.mediascope.org/pubs/ibriefs/vgv.htm>.

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